Friday, October 29, 2010

The Important Lesson of Exploding Underwear

It feels good to get the last of my firewood split and stacked before October’s chilly breeze turns to November’s biting frost.

But that dog turd has other ideas.

As my splitting maul careens down toward that first unfortunate log, I slip on an ill-placed pile of poop.

My legs split. The log does not.

What should happen next is a drastic groin injury that leaves me whimpering on the ground until my wife comes out to check on me. I would tolerate her amused ridicule as long as she is prepared to deal with the firewood until I recover from surgery.

Instead, I manage to land on one knee to avoid serious injury. I was lucky.

My wood splitting area is a known dog defecation zone. I should have checked. I just was not using my noggin.

Such embarrassing moments keep us humble. I can accept their necessity.

But what if your underwear explodes?

I read about a woman in the early 1950s who bought a new netted underskirt made with nitrocellulose, a basic ingredient in gunpowder. She wore it to a New Year’s Eve party. One casual flick of a cigarette, and BOOM! She suddenly became the center of attention.

Oh, sure. It’s funny now. The woman, in her highly charred state, did not find it quite so amusing. Hers was one of several incidents that sparked (heh, heh) the Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953.

That’s right: the government had to step in and make it illegal to sell highly combustible clothing.

After a series of lethal and disfiguring incidents.

It’s easy to look back now and see how stupid that was. Unthinkable nowadays, right?

If you believe that, I’ve got a yard full of dog turds to show you.

Remember in 2007, when a bunch of Thomas the Train toys were recalled because they contained lead? People who sent their trains back received an extra toy train as a complimentary gift.

How thoughtful of the distributor, RC2 Corp. Too bad the new toy train also contained lead.

You can’t possibly fire enough people to make up for such epic incompetence.

I read about all this stuff in a book called “Slow Death By Rubber Duck,” by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. It describes “The Secret Danger of Everyday Things;” how toxic chemicals ubiquitously and invisibly inhabit just about everything in your house.

“From the time we get up from a good night’s sleep under our wrinkle-resistant sheets (treated with the known carcinogen formaldehyde) to the time we go to bed after a snack of microwave popcorn (the interior of the bag coated with an indestructible chemical that builds up in our bodies), pollution surrounds us.”

The authors experimented on themselves, exposing their own bodies to mercury, phthalates, bromine, BPA, and bunches of other toxins widely available at the supermarket, proving that the human body does absorb this stuff - not just in massive, unrealistic quantities, but through normal use of common products.

They enumerate some steps you can take to protect yourself, but stress that public awareness and better regulation are the only long-term solutions.

Maybe 50 years from now, people will look back on how we dressed our kids in pajamas coated with poisonous flame-retardants and stored our food in chemical-leeching plastic containers, and wonder what the hell we were thinking.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ll make it that far. Our scientific knowledge and technological advancements truly are remarkable. But we don’t really know that much.

We know just enough to be dangerous.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Polishing the Dull Cutlery

After the Bangor Daily News endorsed Eliot Cutler, I got an impolite mailing from the Democratic Party. It painted Cutler as an Earth-raping tree pillager in bed with the oil companies.

I don’t know if this is true, but I do know it was a pretty weak attempt at a campaign flier.

To start with, they used a picture of Cutler smiling harmlessly. Granted, they darkened the picture, trying to make him look grainy and foreboding, but they failed to create the impression of a villain eager to spread black viscous slime all over our pristine coastline.

Most campaign attack ads use rather unflattering photos of the target. They dig around for a picture of him yelling maniacally, picking his nose, or at least frowning. You mean to tell me the Democrats could not find a single picture of Eliot Cutler frowning?

I saw Cutler at the Common Ground Fair. He was frowning all over the place. He frowned his way from the political action tent all the way over to the lamb-ka-bobs. Where was the Donkey photo sniper?

I tried to remain close to see if Cutler would notice that a likely voter was standing a few feet away, waiting to be persuaded. But he just kept frowning along, surrounded by a group of young supporters in white Cutler tee-shirts. The supporters were smiling, albeit nervously. I’m not sure they’d ever seen hippies before.

At any rate, the Democrats don’t really need to worry about the BDN endorsement. Cutler has the campaigning skills of a sea urchin.

Plus, in a different editorial, the BDN endorsed a moderate, rational approach to politics, and you can see how influential that was.

It is true; running a government is complicated and requires nuance and careful thought, rather than knee-jerk angry reactivity. But talk to the average voter about any divisive issue, and you’ll see that even the ones who think they’re rational are really just controlled by vague impulses and subconscious fear.

People are all wound up about Cutler working as a lobbyist for Chinese corporations, as if Chinese wealth is grown by exploitation, but ours is not. Meanwhile, they flock to Wal-Mart and fill their carts with stuff that was Made in China.

Hypocrisy springs eternal.

Then we have a recent CBS News poll showing that 61% of Americans think illegal immigration is a “very serious” problem. Republicans and Tea-Baggers lead the charge to close our borders.

They have no sense of irony. Illegal immigrant labor reduces the costs of goods and services in the U.S. by an average of 5%, according to the non-partisan National Research Council.

If someone proposed a 5% sales tax increase on everything sold in the United States, Republicans would have a fit the size of Great Britain. They’d raise a valiant defense against this assault on small business and corporate stockholders.

But I guess we can afford the extra expense if it means fewer people with brown skin hanging around.

Maybe the BDN is correct in noting that we should vote for someone who actually knows what’s going on, and that Cutler is the only candidate with an actual detailed plan to solve Maine’s fiscal problems.

But he’s still going to lose. And so will Mitchell. They do not have LePage’s edge, the proper outrage and intensity we look for in a candidate we expect to Change Everything.

Democrats: Stop putting out cheesy fliers. Save your money for 2012 and 2014.

And hire some more photo snipers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Take This Halloween Costume Advice and Shove It

When your kid reaches age five, is already smarter than you, an awkward mix of pride and shame antagonizes the ego. You could show a terrier a fire hydrant made of steak and he’d be less confused.

As a child, my Halloween costumes were a series of comic mishaps worthy of a much larger audience. If reality TV had existed back then, I might have been rich and famous.

My parents, God love them, were happy to oblige whatever crazy costume idea I came up with each year. This was exceedingly educational. Read on to partake of my wisdom.

Once I was a mummy. They wrapped me in about $60 worth of toilet paper, only to find that whenever I moved any limb at an angle of five degrees or more, the paper ripped. By the time I got to the car (we lived in the woods and had to drive to the suburbs for Trick-or-Treating) I had inadvertently
shredded the costume.


Then I went through a series of box-oriented costumes. One year I was a robot, the next, a birthday present. There might have been a jack-in-the-box mixed in there somewhere, as well; I’m not sure.

At any rate, my mother slaved for hours elaborately decorating large cardboard boxes in colored paper and tin foil, only to discover on Halloween night that the costume would not fit into our undersized Subaru station wagon.

You’d think we would have realized somewhere along the way that the whole box thing was a poor idea.

DO NOT MAKE A BOX COSTUME FOR YOUR CHILD unless you’re absolutely certain you won’t have to drive him or her anywhere for a while.

I vaguely remember my mother pressuring me to be a pirate one year. I must have been just a little tyke, but the idea of wearing an earring scared me to bits, partially because I imagined searing pain in my earlobe, and partially because boys did not wear earrings in those days unless they wanted to be picked on relentlessly.

It’s too bad that I felt the need, as a six-year-old with big plastic glasses, to assure everyone how manly I was by not wearing an earring. I might have had more fun.


Another year, when I was closer to adolescence, I got the idea of dressing as Johnny Paycheck, who sung the famous tune “Take This Job and Shove It.” Instead of saying “Trick or Treat” at every house, I wanted to say, “Take this Halloween Candy and Shove It.” Thankfully, I was talked out of that idea.

No matter how original and avant garde your child may feel, DO NOT PERMIT HIM TO DRESS AS A DISGRUNTLED COUNTRY MUSIC STAR. (But a gruntled country music star would be fine.)

Also, please resist the temptation to dress your child as a politician. Every year I see shorties running around in Regan masks and Bush masks and it makes me wonder if there’s been a robbery at Midget National Bank or something.

I admit, though, a Paul LePage costume would be pretty scary, but you’d have to instruct your child to curse at people after saying “Trick or Treat.” Then, if they don’t give the exact candy he wants, he should storm angrily away from the house.

My daughter, wiser than I ever was, is a bumblebee this year. If my ego can recover from the sting we’ll have a great time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sink Your Teeth into Referendumb 2010

Teeth are not that important.

Unless you’re having a root canal. Sure, as some sadistic guy in a white coat is jamming sharp pieces of metal into our gums, we all promise to take our dental health much more seriously from now on.

But once the procedure is over, and the pain subsides, and the bills are paid, you are free to go back to basically ignoring your teeth. And most of us do.

Eventually they all fall out anyway and you need dentures. It is the way of our ancestors. Why should we think we’re any better?

No one’s teeth are worth $5 million, which is why I’m urging you to vote NO on Question 2 November 2.

What, you didn’t realize there was a Question 2? There’s always a Question 2. It’s the resentful younger sibling of Question 1, always getting less attention and respect.

“Damn, you Question 2,” says the Secretary of State when he’s had too much to drink. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

Sexy Question 1 is about a casino (again) this year, this time somewhere in Oxford County. In several different votes, the People of Maine have made themselves clear how they feel about casinos: As long as they’re run by white people, we don’t mind.

This time around, it’s a “group of investors” who think they can make some money, not just some tribe trying to recover a little dignity and financial viability. I guess if the people in Oxford County are willing to put up with it, who are we to say no?

Casinos are seedy, unhealthy, addictive, and depressing. But so is McDonald’s, and we don’t seem to mind building those every 500 yards or so. Follow the money.

Speaking of money, don’t forget those bond issues that always pop up further down the ballot, trying to drive this state into (further) financial ruin, urging us to borrow incomprehensible sums for stupid things that don’t matter, like teeth.

Question 2 proposes greater access to dental care and funding for dental schools.

Obviously, the public would benefit from this. It would also benefit from weekly yoga and massage therapy for every citizen. Imagine everyone strolling through life in waves of relaxed bliss!

But we can’t mortgage away the future for luxuries like being happy or not having to use dentures.

Meanwhile, Question 3 lurks at the bottom of the page asking for almost $10 million to conserve land and state parks. Again, a nice gesture, ensuring that future generations have places to enjoy nature besides what manages to grow between cracks in the sidewalk, but is it really worth mortgaging our financial future?

Actually, when you look at the whole picture, it’s worth the money. The only reason people from away drop their filthy money in Maine is because of our pristine outdoor spaces (well, that and the casinos). They’re certainly not here for the night life, and they’re definitely not here to see thousands of acres of clear-cuts.

Every dime of interest we spend on the Question 3 bond will come back to us through the tourism industry. And it will buy the priceless satisfaction and security of knowing that future generations will always be able to put food on the table self-sufficiently by hunting and fishing.

That is, if they’re able to chew anything besides soup and yogurt.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Where is My Damn Column?

Folks, I'm sorry to say I didn't have a chance to write a column this week.  My wife has been pretty sick, which means I have extra parenting and worrying to do.  Feel free to peruse the archives if you miss me, and take comfort in knowing I'll resume providing mediocre entertainment next weekend.